Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jersey Blue

Jersey Blue: An occasional piece on cheeses

I owe my love of blue cheeses to my wife, which is just one of the many things she brought into my life and our relationship. At one time she worked in a cheese shop (“It’s not much of a cheese shop really, is it?”) and possessed a level of lactic sophistication far greater than mine. (Today such things might be listed on Craig’s List as “Former cheese monger seeks willing student…” You get the idea).  The delights in all things blue and moldy were passed on early. Youngest daughter discovered the joy of gorgonzola during dinner one night during a family trip to London when she was 7. (It was an Italian restaurant, so she had to learn about Stilton later). Sadly oldest daughter is lactose intolerant.
When youngest daughter was home recently for spring break we spent a day in Philadelphia, making a stop in that temple of cheesy comestibles, Di Bruno Brothers. Looking over the selections of blue cheeses we found Jersey Blue, a raw milk beauty from Switzerland. Distinctive with its marble-like veining of mold I figured that if looks were any indication, it should be wonderful. (A caveat here: it is expensive). We bought some, took it home, and I was curious to learn more about the cheese.
Jersey Blue is one of the cheeses made by Swiss cheese maker Willi Schmid. Often referred to a “the Cheese Wizard,” which was probably a title bestowed upon him by his importer, Quality Cheeses. There is a video of Schmid at a cheese tasting in NYC accompanied by the theme from the Harry Potter movies. I’m not making this up.
Trained in science (chemistry, microbiology, and physics), Schmid has been a dairy farmer since 2006. Four short years later, Jersey Blue won “World’s Best Jersey Cheese” in 2010, an annual award for cheeses made from Jersey cow milk.
Jersey Blue isn’t inoculated with mold like other blue cheeses. The unique veining is a result of hand ladling the curds into the cheese molds. The cheese is ready in about 9 to 10 weeks time, when the mold has developed throughout the cheese and appears on the outer surface. Slight differences in the color of the paste are seasonal. A white paste signifies that it was made during the winter. A pale yellow paste indicates that it was made from summer milk, the time of  year when the cows graze on fresh grass and flowers that colors the milk with beta-carotene. Schmid tastes the milk every morning to determine its proper use.
But all of this is meaningless unless it’s good.
And it is. Rich, buttery and creamy smooth with a nice blue acidic twang. (I’m no good at the “You taste hazelnuts and the terroir of the Lichtensteig meadows where the cows graze” business). We are slowly working our way through our slice of this marbled beauty. And don’t remove the rind since that is edible as well.
I know I usually don’t write about food without recipes. This is the best I can do for this post.  Slices of good crusty bread? Check. A knife for spreading the cheese onto the aforementioned bread? Check. Wine or beer? Check. Well then, you’re set.
 If you love blue cheeses and don’t pass out when you see the price, Jersey Blue is a beauty.

Quality Cheese:

Malfadine with Swiss Chard, Blistered Tomatoes, and Fried Shiitakes

“Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter.”*

Looking toward the arrival of spring
Listening: Chris Potter Quartet- Vertigo

I am, regrettably, behind in my postings. I had started this when there was a little bit of warmer weather several weeks ago, when spring seemed like a vague promise. It usually takes just one day of warmer weather to get everyone thinking that winter has loosened its chilly grasp and we are fooled that spring warmth might be right around the corner. My red haired food co-pilot works at a college and bears this out for me. If there’s one nice warm day, the coeds are wearing shorts and flipflops. But it doesn’t last. We know it’s too early but hey, isn’t there more daylight? That should count for something.

No matter what type of winter you had, it is officially spring.  Thanks to a slight warm up when youngest daughter was home for her spring break, I made dinner with ingredients that looked back to winter but with a spring-like lightness.
As you might know, I work in a restaurant. One of the menu items uses Swiss chard, leaves only, which means unused stems. One day when the chard was being prepped for steaming, I asked that the stems be saved. I would take them home and use them. The chard was cut from the stems leaving a little bit of the leaf behind. This would be used with pasta. I also roasted some grape tomatoes to bring out more sweetness and fried some shiitakes, which would be scatted over the finished pasta.
If you have never fried shiitakes, you should try it. The shitakes cook to a deep brown, intensifying in flavor that is almost bacon-like. (Almost. Bacon is bacon after all). It would work with some other mushrooms too. I had wanted to use maitakes but shiitakes were easier to find.
And what do you do if you don’t have any chard stems that you brought home from work?  Prepare your chard in a similar manner, saving the leaves for another meal and using the stems for this pasta.  I used a long, ribbon-like dry pasta made locally by Severino Pasta called mafaldine. I used to know Pete Severino when he delivered his family’s pasta to a restaurant in Philly where I worked. (That’s Pete holding fresh noodles in one of their web page photos). Severino pastas are available at Whole Foods. They also work in conjunction with Whole Foods, supplying them with their fresh pasta items.
You can substitute with any long pasta, such as fettucine.

Malfadine with Chard stems, Blistered Tomatoes, and Crispy Fried Shiitakes
Although this might seem like a lot of steps, the prep breakdown is as follows: you can fry the shiitakes while the tomatoes are roasting and you’re waiting for the pasta water to boil. Some of the cooking liquid with the chard stems becomes the basis of the sauce. Although you don’t use all of the tomatoes in this recipe, roast all of them and save the leftovers to toss into salad.

If you are using malfadine noodles, break them in half.

For two servings:
3 to 4 ounces malfadine (or other) dry pasta
2 cups(loosely packed)  Swiss chard stems, sliced into ½” pieces
1 pint grape tomatoes
6 to 8 shiitake mushrooms
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
salt and ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
shaved ricotta salata, optional

1. To make the blistered tomatoes: Heat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the cherry tomatoes under cold water. Toss the tomatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Place the tomatoes onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Scatter a few sprigs of fresh thyme over the tomatoes (optional).  Roast the tomatoes for about 15 minutes, until they take on some color and have begun to split. Remove from oven and set aside.
2. To make the fried shiitakes, remove the stems from the shitakes and discard. Slice the caps into ¼ ” thick slices. Place a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add ¼” vegetable oil (such as canola) to the pan; when the oil is hot, add the shitakes in batches and fry until browned and crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. If they appear to be cooking too quickly, lower the heat under the pan. Gently move the shiitakes around as they cook. When the shiitakes are done, transfer them to paper towels. Repeat until all of the shiitakes are cooked. After all the shiitakes have been fried and drained, transfer them to clean paper towels and set aside.
3.  Place a pot of salted water over high heat. Cover and bring to a boil and cook the pasta according to directions, cooking the pasta one minute less than suggested. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil into the pan. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chard stems, season with salt and pepper and sauté for a minute. Add ½ cup of the pasta water to the pan. Cover and let the chard stems cook until tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add about half of the grape tomatoes (and their juices) to the Swiss chard. Set pan aside if the pasta hasn’t finished cooking.
3. Before draining the pasta, remove about ½ cup of the pasta water and set aside.  When the pasta is cooked, drain the pasta. Place the chard stems back over the medium heat. Add the pasta and mix the pasta into the vegetables. Add the grated parmesan cheese and toss to coat; if the sauce seems dry, add some of the pasta water to the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and divide the pasta between two bowls. Scatter the shiitakes between the two servings. Drizzle each portion with a little additional olive oil and shave some ricotta salata over the pasta. Serve.

*Here Comes the Sun" George Harrison

Severino Pasta: http://severinopasta.com/
Chris Potter: http://www.chrispottermusic.com/  or